Introduction and Background
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (U.K.) is a group of countries that share a common monarch and government. Great Britain is composed of the countries of England, Scotland and Wales. In the 19th century, during the period of large-scale immigration to the United States, Ireland was part of the United Kingdom. The Kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland were joined in 1800 by the Act of Union. Together, the kingdoms were known as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. This union was dissolved when Ireland, with the exception of the six Ulster counties that constitute Northern Ireland, became a self-governing dominion of Great Britain in 1921 with passage of the Anglo-Irish Treaty. Ireland is today known as the Republic of Ireland and is an independent nation.
For several centuries, the United Kingdom was one of the most powerful nations in the world. Following the English Navy’s defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, England became a major world power. After the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo in June 1815, the United Kingdom became the world’s most powerful nation. For the next 124 years, the British Empire focused on building its colonial empire throughout the world. At the peak of its power, the British Empire controlled more than one-fifth of the world’s lands and peoples. Involvement in the two world wars of the 20th century was a massive drain on the nation’s resources, and the United Kingdom’s ability to maintain control over its colonial empire was compromised. In the years following the Second World War, former colonies of the British Empire gained their independence.
The United Kingdom has been settled by many groups and influenced by many cultures throughout its history. Most prominent among these are the Celts, Romans, Angles, Saxons, Vikings, and the Normans. During the last several hundred years, there has been widespread migration within the countries that form the U.K, as well as extensive immigration to the U.K. by citizens of Great Britain’s colonies, the fifty-three Commonwealth countries and other, foreign nations.
Immigration to the United States
The colonization and settlement of the American colonies, and the subsequent immigration to the United States by subjects of the United Kingdom, was due to many causes. Between 1620 and 1920, the United Kingdom experienced many changes and upheavals that led to mass migrations by its residents. Chief among these were the English Civil War; Religious persecution; a decrease in infant mortality rates and consequent increase in population; modernization of farming techniques and consolidation of farm lands; agricultural hardships, including droughts, blights and increased land rents; and early industrialization that led to greater opportunities for skilled laborers in the United States.